Review: “Ghost” History Walk at Prospect Cemetery

I attended a “ghost” history walk in Prospect Cemetery last week.

The people of Brackenridge, PA, established Prospect Cemetery in 1864.

This cemetery includes markers from as far back as 1817. (The Victorians moved graves to Prospect from other local burying grounds.)

The remains of Brackenridge’s founder and namesake (Judge Henry Marie Brackenridge) and his family rest here.

The 13 acre cemetery sits on a hill overlooking the Allegheny River, upstream from Pittsburgh.

A few years ago, the cemetery met financial troubles. A local newspaper covered the issue in several articles.

Later, volunteers organized annual “history ghost walks” to raise money for cemetery upkeep.

Jonathan and I attended the walk each year. (We paid $10 per ticket this year.)

Each year’s ghost walk featured Judge Brackenridge and his wife. The other featured cemetery residents varied each year. Volunteers dressed in period costumes as “ghosts” – the people featured on that year’s tour- and reenacted that person. The “ghosts” featured included deceased community members from both the 1800’s and the 1900’s.

This year’s featured “ghosts” included TWO Civil War veterans. One of these veterans was captured at the Battle of Chickamauga and taken to Andersonville Prison. He later wrote a book about his wartime experiences. This year’s tour also included a World War I veteran who later served as a police officer for decades.

In my opinion, the “history ghost walk” is a creative solution to the cemetery’s situation.

This year’s walk occurred under a nearly-full moon.

(I’m not aware of any historical fiction that included Henry Marie Brackenridge. However, his father, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, appeared as a character in the novel The King’s Orchard by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. Hugh Henry founded the University of Pittsburgh. Here’s another blog post that I wrote about the Brackenridge family.)

Haunted History at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh

Last year, I posted here and here about the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. I blogged about my visit to the aviary with my mom and my sister E.

Since it’s fall again and I promised you ghost stories, I want to talk about the aviary’s haunted history.

Per the National Aviary’s own website, the aviary sits on the site where the Western Penitentiary sat from 1826 to 1880. Did you ever hear of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia?  Well, this Western Penitentiary housed inmates in the western part of our state. (Western Penitentiary later moved a short distance downriver.)

If you’re interested in American Civil War military history, you can Google “Morgan’s Raid” and read all about Confederate Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s raid of Indiana and Ohio in 1863. Morgan and his regiment were captured only miles from the PA state line. Morgan was imprisoned in Ohio, escaped by tunneling his way out, but died in another raid a year later in Tennessee.

Many of Morgan’s men were imprisoned in Chicago. However, over 100 of his captured soldiers were held as prisoners of war (P.O.W.’s) at the Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh.

Several of Morgan’s soldiers passed away at the Pittsburgh prison, where the aviary now sits. One of these men died trying to escape.

Local folklore says that these soldiers still haunt the aviary. I didn’t notice any ghosts when I visited the aviary last summer. However, you may visit the aviary and decide for yourself.

Allegheny Arsenal Explosion

Today marks a grim anniversary.

On September 17, 1862, Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Arsenal exploded.

Most of the 78 arsenal employees killed were young females (teenage girls). The arsenal manufactured munitions for the United States for the American Civil War.

Here are the photos that I took of the marker in Allegheny Cemetery for these industrial accident casualties.

Fates and Traitors

This spring, author Jennifer Chiaverini released Resistance Women, a novel about the German Resistance in World War II. The protagonists in this novel included Mildred Fish Harnack, a Wisconsin native whom the Nazis arrested for spying. Adolf Hitler personally ordered Harnack’s execution. Resistance Women reached bestselling lists and garnered accolades this summer.

I didn’t read Resistance Women (yet). Instead, I read Chiaverini’s 2016 historical fiction Fates and Traitors: A Novel of John Wilkes Booth.

In case you’re not an American, actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, in April 1865.

Fates and Traitors” told the story of Booth and these four women who “loved” him (according to the book jacket):

1.) his mother Mary Ann Booth;

2.) his sister Asia Booth Clarke;

3.) his secret fiancée Lucy Hale (the daughter of an abolitionist Republican senator from New Hampshire); and

4.) boardinghouse owner Mary Surratt. The United States government executed Surratt over her alleged role in the Lincoln assassination.

Now, before I get into too much detail about Fates and Traitors, I want to use Chiaverini’s work to explain one reason that I love historical fiction so much.

Chiaverini’s published historical fiction highlighted these families (among others): the Booths, the Lincolns, the Chases (Salmon P. Chase and daughter Kate Chase Sprague), the Grants, and the Byrons (Lord Byron and daughter Ada Lovelace). 

The historical characters in Chiaverini books discussed the characters from other books.

For instance, several of the historical figures from Chiaverini’s other books (including Abraham Lincoln) went to see the Booth brothers perform prior to the Lincoln assassination. Several of the historical figures from these books enjoyed reading Lord Byron’s poetry. Several of the historical figures from these books gossiped about Kate Chase Sprague’s political ambitions for her father. Several of the historical figures from these books observed Mary Lincoln’s fine wardrobe. In Fates and Traitors, John Wilkes Booth stalked both the Lincolns and the Grants prior to the Lincoln assassination. In another Chiaverini book, Mrs. Grant observed John Wilkes Booth stalking her.

 I learned from my reading that nobody’s family dynamics are perfect.

I personally enjoyed Fates and Traitors. However, the first part of the book moved slowly. I learned about the large Booth family. Family patriarch Junius Brutus Booth Sr. was named after one of the assassins in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Junius Sr. established a highly successful Shakespearean stage acting career in London and Europe. Junius Sr. and Mary Ann fled to the United States to avoid a scandal. Junius Sr. reestablished his acting career in America to great fanfare and acclaim.

The Booth family struggled with one family crisis after another. (Pardon the cliché, but the Booth family created a lot of family drama!)

Three of Junius Sr.’s sons (Junius Jr., Edwin, and John Wilkes) followed their father into acting. I’m under the impression that historians considered Edwin to be a more accomplished actor than his famous father.

Asia raised her own large family and also established herself as a writer and poet. She produced several memoirs about the Booths.

I recommend this book to readers of Civil War historical fiction.

I forgot about Jessie Benton Fremont!

In my last blog post, I completely forgot to mention Jessie Benton Fremont (1824-1902).

She was the daughter of Thomas Hart Benton and also the wife of John Fremont.

My high school history class didn’t teach me this story about Thomas Hart Benton: Benton served as an aide-de-camp under General Andrew Jackson in the war of 1812. Benton got into a dispute with Jackson over something.

One day in September 1813, Jackson was in Nashville. Benton and his brother Jesse Benton (not to be confused with Jessie Benton) arrived in Nashville. Jackson found out. Jackson headed towards the hotel where the Benton brothers were staying. Jackson reportedly yelled, “Now show yourself, you damned rascal!”

Jackson ended up in a gunfight against the Benton brothers. Jesse Benton (Jessie Benton Fremont’s uncle) shot Andrew Jackson twice. Jackson almost lost his arm in this gunfight. Jackson survived. Jackson’s arm also survived.

Jackson later won the Battle of New Orleans and eventually became POTUS.

Thomas Hart Benton later became a United States Senator for Missouri.

Jessie Benton eloped with John Fremont when she was 16 or 17 years old.

John Fremont was the Republican party’s very first presidential candidate and also a governor of California. He served as a general in the American Civil War. Fremont emancipated all of the slaves in Missouri without authorization, before POTUS Abraham Lincoln issued his own Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln removed Fremont from his command.

Decades later, Jessie Benton Fremont wrote several books about her husband’s adventures and her own in the American west. Her earnings from her career as a writer supported her family during a financial crisis.

As I mentioned in my prior blog post, I’m curious about the events and “influencers” who made it acceptable – trendy, even – for the high-status women of the Civil War to strive for their own writing careers. After all, Dolley Madison didn’t write a memoir about that time that she fled the British.

Presidents’ Wives and Generals’ Wives

I wrote this blog post about privileged married women from elite families who wrote about their experiences during the American Civil War.

I recognize that women of color, women across the socioeconomic spectrum, unmarried women, and LGBT women also wrote stuff. However, this specific blog post is about privileged married women from elite families.

Now, in this earlier Parnassus Pen post, I blogged about Juliette Magill Kinzie. Kinzie wrote several books about the Kinzie family’s role in the history of Fort Dearborn and the founding of Chicago. (Here’s a magazine article that mentioned the controversy regarding Kinzie’s book about the Battle of Fort Dearborn.)

(This article from the Chicago Tribune speculated that Kinzie’s father-in-law, the trader John Kinzie, committed Chicago’s first murder. Kinzie’s granddaughter, Juliette Gordon Low, later founded the Girl Scouts of the USA in Savannah, Georgia.)

Kinzie lived from 1806 – 1870. She published her first work in 1844. I bookmarked Kinzie as an example of a woman from a well-connected family who upset the status quo as a woman writer BEFORE the Civil War.

(Incidentally, Kinzie’s husband and sons were Union Army officers during the American Civil War. Her son-in-law was a Confederate Army officer. Her family knew General William T. Sherman socially.)

Then, I came up with a list of elite wives and widows who wrote their own memoirs and first-hand accounts in the decades AFTER the Civil War.

For instance, Mary Boykin Chesnut (wife of former U.S. Senator and Confederate Brigadier General James Chesnut, Jr.) revised her Civil War diary several times, hoping to see it published. Chesnut passed away in 1886. She didn’t live to see her diary published. However, the diary was published decades later to great fanfare.

Varina Howell Davis (wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis) was friends with Mary Chesnut. According to Wikipedia:

Davis became a writer after the American Civil War, completing her husband’s memoir. She was recruited by Kate (Davis) Pulitzer, a distant cousin and wife of publisher Joseph Pulitzer, to write articles and eventually a regular column for the New York World. Widowed in 1889, Davis moved to New York City with her youngest daughter Winnie in 1891 to work at writing.

Then, Wikipedia had this to say about Varina and Jefferson Davis’ daughter, Winnie Davis:

Later in the 1880s, she appeared with her father on behalf of Confederate veterans’ groups. After his death, she and her mother moved in 1891 to New York City, where they both worked as writers. She published a biography and two novels .

In 1899, Julia Dent Grant (the wife of Commanding General of the United States Army and POTUS Ulysses S. Grant) finished her own memoir. She became the first First Lady to write such a thing.

(Per this Washington Post article, Mrs. Grant couldn’t find a publisher for her memoir during her lifetime. The memoir was published decades after her death. I purchased it in Kindle form, so I can read it on my iPad.)

I know that Varina Davis became acquainted with Julia Grant after both women became widows.

So, I wonder how much of an influence the elite woman of both sides of the Civil War had on each other in regards to their individual writing careers.

Here are some other elite women who wrote books after the American Civil War:

In the 1880’s and 1890’s, Elizabeth Bacon Custer (the widow of United States Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer) wrote several articles and books about her husband’s military experiences.

LaSalle Corbell Pickett (the widow of Confederate General George Pickett) wrote three books between 1899-1913 about her own husband’s military career.

Now, I realize that in earlier time periods, society didn’t look favorably on women who wrote books – or even drew attention to themselves! I read one novel about the antebellum south which noted that respectable women expected to have their names in a newspaper only three times: at birth, marriage, and death. As far as I know, Dolley Madison never wrote a book about that time that she fled from the White House before the British burned it down. (Also, if you have time to kill, Google “Rachel Jackson” and “presidential election of 1828.”)

I know that U.S. Grant finished his memoir less than a week before he passed away in July 1885. I know that quite a few of the prominent men from the Civil War wrote their own memoirs. However, in this blog post, I don’t care greatly about the books that the men wrote. I care about the books that the women wrote.

I’m curious about the events and “influencers” who made it acceptable – trendy, even – for the high-status women of the Civil War to strive for their own writing careers.

You readers are all fabulous. Please come back soon.

Edit: I forgot all about Jessie Benton Fremont! See my next post.

Meeting Aaron Burr in the Alleghenies

Scene from the Allegheny Mountains between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia

On July 11, 1804 – 215 years ago today – Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in their famous duel. Alexander Hamilton died the next day.

Burr reportedly travelled west through Pennsylvania in the duel’s aftermath.

Later, Burr was accused of conspiring to found new empire and install himself as the leader. Burr allegedly travelled from Pittsburgh, down the Ohio River to Blennerhassett Island. Burr allegedly intended to stage a militia at Blennerhassett Island. Allegations swirled that other prominent Americans, including future POTUS Andrew Jackson, played a role in the Burr conspiracy.

From what I understand, Burr’s daughter Theodosia waited at Blennerhassett Island, thinking that her father would install her as his official hostess in this new empire. The Blennerhassett family had to flee from the island after the allegations came out against them and Burr.

Now, the Burr conspiracy allegedly happened in 1804/05 – 1807, and Aaron Burr was arrested in 1807 and tried for treason. A U.S. circuit court acquitted Burr.

I found a chance connection between Aaron Burr and the mother-in-law of ANOTHER future POTUS. Julia Dent Grant (JDG), the wife of future POTUS Ulysses S. Grant, was the first First Lady to write her own memoirs. Mrs. Grant’s memoirs were published years after her death.

In “The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant),” she wrote that her own mother, Ellen Bray Wrenshall Dent, grew up in Pittsburgh and travelled to Philadelphia to attend school.

Mrs. Grant wrote in her memoirs that Mrs. Dent told a story to her children about the time that she stopped in a tavern in the Allegheny Mountains and Aaron Burr was at that same tavern! Mrs. Dent remembered that Burr and “his army” showed kindness to her.

Actually, here is the quote from JDG’s memoirs: 

Mamma has told me of riding on horseback all the way from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, where she was sent to school, and of once meeting Aaron Burr and his army in the Allegheny Mountains encamped around the little tavern which contained one room and a kitchen. This one room was, of course, occupied by the officers. Mamma, though much fatigued, was very loath to lie on the settle, or bench, before them all to rest until they pressed around and made for her a bed and a pillow of their cloaks and begged her to rest, telling her she would be just as safe there as in her mother’s arms. Lying down at last, they covered her with another martial cloak, and she slept as soundly as the princess in the fairy tale.

Now, I actually grew up in the Allegheny Mountains between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I never heard this story until I read JDG’s memoirs.

I wonder what year this occurred. Mrs. Dent was born in 1793. I am under the impression that Mrs. Dent would have been a schoolgirl in the first decade of the 1800’s. Keep in mind that Burr shot Hamilton in 1804. The Burr conspiracy allegedly happened in 1804/05 – 1807. Aaron Burr was arrested for treason in 1807.

So, was Burr in the process of planning the alleged Burr conspiracy when JDG’s mother saw him at the tavern? When JDG said “Aaron Burr and his army,” did JDG mean the militia that Burr allegedly raised for the conspiracy?

This story stands out to me because, in my mind, Mrs. Dent said to her children (including future FLOTUS Julia Dent Grant), “Did I ever tell you about that time that I met a very famous person? Wait until you hear about this!”

Now, keep in mind that Ellen Bray Wrenshall Dent passed away in 1857. The American Civil War started in 1861. Mrs. Dent’s son-in-law, General Ulysses S. Grant, captured Forts Henry and Donelson in 1862 and saw victory at Vicksburg in 1863. So, Mrs. Dent passed away before her own son-in-law became nationally famous.

Did you ever meet famous person? Was this person Aaron Burr-famous?

Uncivil

This blog post is about the Civil War-themed podcast Uncivil from Gimlet Media.

I will also mention a specific episode of Uncivil that describes how George and Martha Washington skirted around a Pennsylvania slavery law.

I discovered podcasts in late 2014 when my sisters convinced me to listen to Serial, hosted by Sarah Koenig. This American Life released Serial in fall 2014.

Well, it just so happens that a former producer for This American Life, Alex Blumberg, co-founded his own podcast company in August 2014. This podcast company came to be known as Gimlet Media.

From what I understand, Blumberg didn’t work on Serial and Gimlet Media and its podcasts are actually competitors to This American Life. However, after I ran out of Serial podcast episodes, my sisters introduced me to the podcasts produced by Gimlet Media.

Also from what I understand, Gimlet Media just happened to be fortunate enough to roll out its own first podcasts just as the public got excited over listening to Serial.

So ever since early 2015, I spent hours listening to podcasts from Gimlet Media.

On more than one occasion, I became deeply attached to one particular Gimlet podcast or another. Then, without any prior warning, the podcast would just cease to release new episodes. I wouldn’t see any notes on social media or on the platform where I get podcasts. Months would go by. Then, Gimlet would either announce that they cancelled the podcast, or else they would finally admit that the season ended and that I should stay alert for a new season soon. In one highly-publicized example, I waited for over a year to find out that the podcast in question (Mystery Show) was cancelled and that the host (Starlee Kine) had been terminated months earlier.

I found several other podcast companies after I discovered Gimlet. In my opinion, these other companies do better jobs of informing listeners as to when a season or podcast series will end. I’ve even found “mom-and-pop” podcasts who do a better job of telling listeners that they are ending their shows than Gimlet does.

I also find it odd that some Gimlet podcasts have their own Facebook pages that give listeners information about new podcast episodes, while other Gimlet podcasts just post their news on the main Gimlet Facebook page.

Here’s why I mention all of this: In October 2017, Gimlet introduced Uncivil. Uncivil is (was?) hosted by Jack Hitt and Chenjerai Kumanyika. (Hite was a contributing editor to This American Life.)

Uncivil is (was?) much, much different than the PBS Ken Burns documentary that I watched in junior high school. Each episode thus far discussed stories and events that aren’t part of the common Civil War narrative. For instance, one episode was about female soldiers who passed themselves off as men. Many of the episodes featured stories and events involving African-Americans.

Between October and December 2017, Gimlet released ten episodes of Uncivil. And then . . . crickets. Did Uncivil’s Season One end? Would Uncivil return with a Season Two? Uncivil actually does have its own Facebook page, and indeed people posted these questions on Facebook.

I never read any responses to these questions.

Then in early January 2019 – THIS MONTH – I browsed iTunes for podcast suggestions. I learned that on ONE day – November 9, 2018 – Uncivil actually did release TWO brand-new episodes.

(Note: I previously subscribed to Uncivil. However, I had storage issues on my old smartphone. Therefore, when I needed to free up more storage, I unsubscribed from Uncivil. This was several months after December 2017, so I had no reason to hope that new episodes were forthcoming. I concede that I may have learned about the two newest Uncivil episodes sooner if I hadn’t unsubscribed.)

I find the following weird: Today, neither the Facebook page for Uncivil nor the Facebook page for Gimlet promotes these 2 new episodes. I thought that I initially saw on Facebook that these are the “final two episodes” of Season One, but now I don’t see this. The podcast app on my phone lists these two newest episodes as “unknown season.”

So, I have no idea if Uncivil is coming back for a Season Two. I have no idea why two brand-new Uncivil episodes were both released on the same random day in November after eleven months of silence.

I suspect that the answer had to do with money. But why the sketchy communication, Gimlet?

Anyway, one of the two new episodes that were released in November was titled “The Fugitive.” It focused on a young enslaved woman who was owned by George and Martha Washington. The Washingtons were President and First Lady of the United States. They lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At that time, by law enslaved people living in Philadelphia were granted their freedom after six months. The Washingtons apparently rotated their enslaved servants between Philadelphia and their Mount Vernon plantation so that none of their slaves lived in Philadelphia for six months straight. Therefore, none of these slaves gained their freedom. The young woman featured in this episode ran away from the Washingtons and she spent the rest of her life hiding from them and their heirs.

Here is the website link to all of the Uncivil episodes.

What podcasts do you enjoy?

Check Out This House Where Juliette Gordon Low Died

On the home front, my six-year-old niece H. is a Daisy Girl Scout. The Girl Scouts are selling cookies right now.

Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts of the USA, died on January 17, 1927 at the age of 66.

(She died of cancer. I mention this because I have several friends who were deeply affected by cancer and who later used fundraisers involving Girl Scout cookie donations for some worthy causes. Hats off to them!)

Juliette Gordon Low died at the Andrew Low House in Savannah, Georgia. I linked the house to this blog because the house fascinates me.

To be clear, I am NOT blogging today about the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace which was a house owned by the Gordon family. I am blogging today about the house once owned by the Low family, which now operates as the Andrew Low House. Juliette Gordon Low married into the Low family and she later came to own the Andrew Low House as a result of (the end of) her marriage.

In order to understand this house, you need to click on the link partway down the left side of the screen that says “Who was Andrew Low?”

You really need to read this website to get the full, rich story. However, to paraphrase this website:

Andrew Low I and Andrew Low II were uncle and nephew. They were both British merchants who earned fortunes in Savannah’s antebellum cotton trade. Andrew Low I retired to England and died a few years later, so he is not a part of the rest of the story here.

Andrew Low II became one of the richest men in Savannah before the Civil War.

Andrew Low II built this house that is now the “Andrew Low House” for the family that he started with his first wife. Unfortunately, his first wife and his first son died before the house was completed. He moved into the house with two young daughters.

Low II remarried to Mary Cowper Stiles and fathered several more daughters as well as his only surviving son William Mackay Low. Then the Civil War started.

Low and his wife Mary travelled to Canada and then sailed to England in a secret plan to slip Confederate arms and supplies through the United State’s naval blockade of the South. Agents representing the United States arrested Low in Maryland upon his return from England. They released Mary Low. She had to travel back to Georgia by herself. She was pregnant. The United States released Andrew Low a few months later. The United States allowed Low to return to Savannah. Low was still a British subject. Also, he was still wealthy and he still had business interests in Britain. I think that it is important to keep this in mind.

Mary Low died a year later in 1863, leaving behind several small children.

After the Civil War ended, Low took his children back to England.

William Low returned to Savannah to visit family when he was an adult. Through his Savannah cousins, he reconnected with the Gordon family of Savannah. He courted Juliette Gordon and married her.

The marriage didn’t go well. William Low died suddenly before the divorce was finalized. He left his entire inheritance to his British mistress. Juliette Gordon Low contested the will. Her settlement included the Andrew Low House in Savannah.

This is how Juliette Gordon Low ended up living in the Andrew Low House prior to her death.

Years ago, I read the Savannah Quartet Series by Eugenia Price. These four historical novels introduce real families such as the Stiles, Lows, and Gordons. However, the protagonist in these novels is actually a fictional cotton merchant named Mark Browning who moves from Philadelphia to Savannah a few decades before the Civil War. The fictional Browning falls deeply in love with Mary Cowper Stiles Low’s actual grandmother, Eliza Mackay. Then he marries his fictional wife Caroline. (Do you find this weird?) In all four of these books, the fictional Browning family socializes with real-life prominent Savannah figures. They also have whiny, emo discussions about the evils of slavery. In fact, the fictional Caroline Browning has a hysterical breakdown about the “dilemma” of owning people in front of Robert E. Lee at a fictional dinner party! (Again, do you find this weird?) These books confused me because fictional characters and storylines cross with real people and real events. However, they taught “teenage Jenny” that antebellum Georgia life was actually pretty horrendous and unjust. Also, Eugenia Price’s books led to my interest in the Andrew Low House. I found the Savannah Quartet Series by Eugenia Price because WalMart sold it.

I’ve never been to Savannah. However, if I ever travel there, I would like to visit the Andrew Low House.

Here is my blog post about Juliette Gordon Low’s own Chicago and Georgia families.

What places do you want to visit?

Chicago “Massacre” and the Girl Scouts; What Have You Survived?

So, shortly after the New Year, some Facebook friends will start to “vague-book” about Girl Scout Cookie season.  From what I understand, people who sell Girl Scout Cookies aren’t actually allowed to post on social media about cookie sales until a specific kick-off date.  However, I know people who post on Facebook “vague references” to selling Girl Scout cookies prior to the kick-off date. 

I spent years as a Girl Scout and attended Girl Scout camp many summers. However, I did all of this long before we all had social media. So if I’m mistaken about the social media guidelines, please reach out and let me know. I’ll even add you to my newsletter mailing list!

For the record, one of the Girl Scout troops that I joined had a bake sale fundraiser which we didn’t report to our local council so that we wouldn’t have to receive approval OR share our “profits” with them.  Since we didn’t have social media or access to the internet, and since we lived over an hour’s drive away from our council headquarters, we got away with this. 

I have a ton of happy memories about being a Girl Scout. So, thank you, thank you, thank you to all of my former Girl Scout leaders.

Also, thank you to the ghost of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts of the USA. 

I used to own a Girl Scout handbook that included a short biography of Juliette Gordon Low.

The biography mentioned that Low permanently lost part of her hearing on her wedding day. This happened after a wedding guest threw rice at her and the rice got stuck in her ear. The biography also mentioned that she was born right before the Civil War to a Yankee mother and a Confederate soldier father.

This biography left out Low’s family connection to a “massacre”/ “battle” on the site of present-day Chicago and the scandal in her own marriage. Here’s a short history about all of that:

So, when I was a kid, I didn’t realize that Girl Scout founder Low came from arguably one of the most elite families in the United States. Low’s mother grew up in a wealthy family that settled in Connecticut in the 1600’s. Low’s father inherited Georgia cotton and railroad money. Low married the son of Andrew Low II, one of the richest men in Savannah in the 1800’s. Low’s Georgia family owned slaves up until the Civil War. Yeah, my old Girl Scout handbook didn’t talk about this.

So let me start with Juliette Magill Kinzie. She became Juliette Gordon Low’s maternal grandmother. She grew up in Connecticut as Juliette Magill and married John H. Kinzie, the son of fur trader John Kinzie.

Juliette Magill Kinzie’s future in-laws ran their fur trade business on the Great Lakes.  In fact, in 1812 the Kinzies actually ran their trading operations across the Chicago River from Fort Dearborn. This local area sits on the shore of Lake Michigan. Do you know what we now call the section of the Chicago River that meets with Lake Michigan? Chicago. We now call that place Chicago.

The Kinzie family in 1812 identified as Canadians, not as United States citizens. This is important.

During this time period, the white American settlers attempted to settle further and further west. Various Native American communities attempted to stop them. Almost all of us learned about a watered-down version of this in school.

In 1812, the young United States and Great Britain entered into a war with each other that we now call the War of 1812. Great Britain and its Native American allies took Fort Mackinac in Michigan from the United States. This fort sat on the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan with Lake Huron. So, once the United States lost Fort Mackinac, they had no way to send supplies or extra troops to any U.S. holdings on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The U.S. forces evacuated Fort Dearborn. However, during the evacuation, Native Americans ambushed the evacuating soldiers and civilians. Dozens of soldiers and civilians, including children, died.

Here’s an article from Chicago Magazine, published Jan. 4, 2010, that I really enjoyed about this: The True Story of the Deadly Encounter at Fort Dearborn, by Geoffrey Johnson. You can also read about this on Wikipedia. I’m not going to blog too much about it here because this blog post is supposed to be about the Girl Scouts.

One of the things that I learned from this above-linked article is that for decades after this event, the public referred to it as the “Massacre at Fort Dearborn.” Native American advocates pointed out that, generally,  incidents which resulted in defeat for white settlers were commonly referred to as “massacres” while engagements that resulted in defeat for indigenous peoples were referred to as “battles.” Many sources no longer refer to the Fort Dearborn incident as a massacre. Wikipedia calls this the “Battle of Fort Dearborn.”

When I visited Chicago a few summers ago, I stood on the sidewalk marking that commemorated the actual site of Fort Dearborn. I stood at the site of Fort Dearborn and I looked across the river at Chicago’s own Trump International Hotel and Tower. 

So, Girl Scouts of the USA founder Juliette Gordon Low’s Canadian Kinzie ancestors ran a trading post along the Chicago River, very close to where the Trump high-rise now sits.

The Kinzie clan didn’t die in the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812.  In fact, Juliette Migill Kinzie’s mother-in-law safely evacuated before the attack started. Remember, they were Canadians and they had relationships with the local Native Americans.

Since John H. Kinzie survived the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812, he could marry Juliette Magill from Connecticut in 1830. Juliette Magill had a relatively elite education for her day. So, she could read and write. Which she did.

Juliette Magill Kinzie moved to the Midwest with her husband and then she wrote several books.

She wrote about her Kinzie in-laws’ experiences during the Battle of Fort Dearborn. Juliette Magill Kinzie’s writings became a well-known source of information about the battle. Critics maintained that she wrote about the event from her in-law’s point of view and therefore made the Kinzie family out as the “heroes” of the event. Again, read this article from Chicago Magazine. It gives some good insights about the controversy around Juliette Magill Kinzie’s work.

Juliette Magill Kinzie and her husband John had seven children. Four of their sons served in the United States Army during the Civil War.

The Kinzies’ daughter Eleanor married William Gordon II of Savannah, Georgia. Gordon and his relatives served with the Confederate Army during the Civil War. William Gordon was the son of a politician and railroad president. He worked as a cotton and rice broker.  You can read on Wikipedia all about the Gordon family’s prominence in Georgia in the 1800’s.

William Gordon II and Eleanor Kinzie Gordon had a daughter in 1860 that they named Juliette. Little Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon. The Civil War started a few months later.

 In 1886, Juliette Gordon married William Low. I learned in a Eugenia Price historical novel and also from this website that William Low was the son of Andrew Low, a Scottish immigrant who became one of the richest men in Savannah.

Juliette Gordon Low’s husband had affairs and then asked her for a divorce.

She moved on and started the Girl Scouts of the USA.

The United States posthumously issued a postage stamp in Juliette Gordon Low’s honor and also awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Low’s supporters worked have to her birthplace listed as a National Historic Landmark.

I don’t know what kind of legacy William Low left behind because he doesn’t actually have his own page on Wikipedia.

Here’s what I learned from reading about the Kinzie and Gordon families: Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA, came from wealth and incredible privilege. She came from a family fortune built on the exploitation of non-white people.

(Also, John Kinzie was credited with having committed the very first murder in Chicago’s history.)

We can’t forget any of this. 

But Juliette Gordon Low also came from people who survived things. The Kinzies survived the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812. The Kinzies and the Gordons survived the Civil War. She herself survived a Victorian Era divorce from a prominent husband.

What did you survive?